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Joe Nedza, owner of Nedza's sits down for an interview on April 19, 2022, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Aria M. Surka, aria.surka@uga.edu)

The Face Behind the Breakfast: Joe Nedza

Joe Nedza, owner of Nedza’s in Athens, Georgia, described himself as an uninterested student during his years at the University of Georgia. Despite his lack of engagement during school, Nedza has paved his own way through the vibrant Athens food scene.

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Nedza knew he wanted to open a business. With this dream, Nedza went to college for business management. 

Quickly he started to contemplate if his business courses were actually going to help him open a business. Looking back, Nedza said that he wished he would have dropped out to begin his entrepreneurial career sooner. 

“I knew about halfway through college that I wasn’t going to use my degree,” Nedza said. “[Business management] isn’t helpful to start a business, it’s helpful to get a job out of college and I knew I didn’t want that, so I wish I would have dropped out.”

Nedza had many ideas for a business, however, most of them were too expensive. With about $300, Nedza started his journey by opening a pop-up restaurant called Nedza’s Waffles. He has been involved in the food industry working as a waiter since he was 14, so opening a food business was “kinda like destiny”, according to Nedza. 

Nedza was setting up his pop-up restaurant everywhere that would allow him to and also some places that would not. He eventually saved up enough to buy a food truck where he became popular for his custard egg waffles turned into a sundae cone, known as a bubble waffle cone. When the food truck became too difficult to maintain due to Athens’ restrictions, he decided it was time to graduate to a storefront. 

When Nedza opened his brick and mortar, he wanted to offer a variety of items since he was never satisfied with just a pastry and a coffee at other shops. At the start, Nedza’s served homemade ice cream, breakfast food, doughnuts and pastries. However, Nedza said that selling all of these items ended up being his biggest regret. 

“My thought was if we had all these things, people are going to wanna be here all day long to eat and drink and study,” Nedza said. “But our brand became confusing like nobody knew what it was … I wish I would have just picked one.”

The idea for a breakfast restaurant was inspired by Nedza’s mom. Growing up, Nedza’s family would look forward to breakfast every night before bedtime. 

“We’d go to bed and be like, ‘Hey Mom what’s for breakfast?’ every night for as long as I lived there,” Nedza said. 

The struggle of making everything on his loaded menu led to the downfall of the beloved bubble waffles that created Nedza’s brand. While there was some backlash from customers, Nedza decided it was in his best interest to drop the item and focus on his breakfast menu.

“I love that you can get a sweet to go after your savory,” Rebecca Mayo said. “That’s a fun perk for me that’s not at every place.” 

Even though it is hard on Nedza to maintain such a large menu, Mayo loves the variety of options Nedzas offers and always orders a doughnut to go along with her grits bowl. 

With every meal served at Nedza’s, each customer receives a personalized note to brighten their day. Nedza said his love language is words of affirmation, and he believes everyone deserves a compliment. 

Lily Heilmann, management major at the University of Georgia and employee at Nedza’s, said writing the compliments to strangers is her favorite part about working at Nedza’s. 

“It’s the best part of the job to make other people’s day and make them smile,” Heilmann said.

She added that Nedza has created a family environment with his employees. Heilmann said that Nedza has been a lively yet efficient boss.

“Joe is awesome, he’s fun and knows how to get work done, so that’s good,” Heilmann said. 

Although his customers and employees admire his charisma, Nedza is yet to take much pleasure in his own successes. 

“I struggled with enjoying success, I almost don’t know how to,” Nedza said. “But when I go and talk to other people who have opened businesses and they say ‘oh we didn’t save money for six years’ and I’m like that’s cool, I have an understanding of how to run and save. That made me feel good.”

Nedza said his ultimate fight was when he would compare himself to other business owners. He used to wonder why people would go out of their way for something that he thought was the same or worse than what he offered. However, he realized he had to change his mindset and focus on his business. 

“It was the mentality of ‘build your own home, focus on your own house’ that was super helpful to me,” Nedza said. “I told myself to ‘pay attention to what you’re doing, don’t worry about them’.”